The Real Reason You’re Not Getting Better With Practice

A recent data study showed that practicing golf more doesn’t actually make you better at golf. This trend was clear across every level of golfer from beginners to single-figure golfers.

This surprises most golfers, but it shouldn’t. In this article, I’ll explain why practice alone won’t automatically make you better at golf.

I will also cover the key changes you need to make in your practice to help you shoot lower scores.

Average practice hours by golfers who improved their handicap over a 12 month period vs those who saw their handicap increase

This graphic shows average practice hours by golfers who improved their handicap over a 12 month period vs those who saw their handicap increase. These groups are broken down by start handicap. Here’s the full study.

Most Golfers Don’t Know What They Should Practice

The average golfer wants to get better, so they head to the range to hit a few mid-irons and drivers. If they are feeling really dedicated they might add on a trip to the putting green.

However, this results in slow or no progress for most golfers. The reason is that not all golf shots are created equal. When we look at a golfer’s playing stats we can quickly see that specific areas (driving, approach play, short game, putting) are costing them most of their dropped shots. Most golfers just don’t know how they are really performing in each area of their game.

The biggest win any golfer can have is to track some basic playing stats – do you hit or miss fairways and greens? How many putts do you have a round? Are you already using a swing analysis app? The importance of keeping playing stats shined through in the data study we referenced above.

Keeping regular playing stats resulted in an average handicap improvement of 3.38 shots over 12 months, compared to an average improvement of just 1.38 for golfers who did not keep playing stats.

Golfers who kept regular playing stats averaged 2.0 shots more improvement over 12 months than golfers who didn’t keep playing stats. We should note that, on average, these groups also practiced and played the same amount each week.

The best 5 minutes of ‘practice’ you can do each week is to keep basic playing stats after every round.

Tracking your playing stats in addition to practice results in lower golf handicaps.

For many years this was my role as a golf coach. I would work with elite amateurs and pros and help them build practice plans based on their playing data. It was time-consuming but super useful.

If you want to know how to build practice plans based on how you play golf, I will discuss it later in this article.

Perfecting Your Golf Swing is Not The Answer

If we look at the LPGA and PGA Tours we will see great variation in how elite golfers all swing the golf club. The reason is that golf is not about having the prettiest swing, but rather about building your most effective swing that gets the ball to your target.

Golfing mechanics are important, but too many golfers get stuck in a black hole trying to perfect their swing mechanics and forget that golf is about getting your golf ball to your target.

Interestingly, few golfers ever practice this skill of finding the best way to get the ball to their target in practice.

We call this type of practice skill development. These are skills games that are specifically designed to solve the same types of problems that you need to become a great golfer.

Below are a couple of examples of simple, but effective skills games.

Breaking Lag Putt to Circle: This skill challenges you with putt precision.

A simple game to increase the skill of your putts.
Play this skill challenge with the app.

Driving Challenge: This game challenges you to drive within a 30′ target. You might use it when you’re trying to stop hitting behind the ball or when you want to improve your fairway percentage.

This driving challenge helps you keep your ball in play with greater accuracy.
Play this skill challenge with the app.

When you play skills games, you can still have a swing thought, but the goal is to care far less about how you swing a golf club and just find a way to score as many points as possible.

It trains you to think in the way you should on the golf course.

If you want to shoot lower scores, spend time practicing skills games along with your standard technical practice.

Your Golf Practice Needs to Keep Leveling Up

Imagine going to the gym for 2 years and never trying to lift heavier weights. . . then wondering why you stopped getting stronger.

That is essentially how all golfers practice. Consider how many times in the past 2 years you have increased the difficulty of your golf practice.

For most golfers, the answer is that they’ve never considered such an idea.

However, learning is expensive, and just like growing muscle, we need to provide our bodies with a small amount of stress to force them to continually learn.

When you first start playing golf just hitting the golf ball is enough of a challenge, but over time, this challenge becomes smaller and smaller and we stop learning.

The answer is to continually make your practice more challenging. You can do this by making your target sizes smaller in practice or by trying to hit your target more times in a row.

This is what you need to do to become a great golfer – you need to be very accurate and you need to be able to hit your target many times in a row (be very consistent). Set goals for your golf game.

If you look back at the skills games above you will see this is exactly how the points scoring works in both Break X Golf skills games. The more accurate you are and the more consistent you are the higher you will score.

How Can I Take My Range Game Onto The Golf Course?

The most common question golfers ask is ‘How can I take my range game out onto the golf course?’ and the sad, but real truth is that playing on the golf course is fundamentally different to the golf range.

However, we can close the gap between these two environments and help transfer over more performance.

On the golf course, your shots have consequences. There is more time between each shot, you rarely hit the same club twice in a row, and lies and conditions are more variable. That’s just to name a few aspects.

The answer is to add these aspects into your practice with skills games. There is a time and a place to hit 30 7-irons in a row, but you also want to test yourself, set up practice games where every shot is different, and add practice games where you sequence shots the way you would on a golf course.

A great example of such a practice game is Par 18 Challenge. Check it out below:

This is a chipping challenge and a putting challenge, all in one.
Play this skill challenge with the app.

Levelling up your practice to include these aspects will really help you transfer your practice performance onto the golf course. But remember, your practice performance is a vehicle, not the destination.

So What Does Effective Practice Look Like?

Great practice is focused, with clear goals. It focuses time on areas that cost you the most shots and the core shots every golfer needs (drives off the tee, approach shots, short game, putting). That’s especially true for putting inside 8 feet, which is most important for scoring.

Your practice should also include a blend of technical work, skills games, and on-course challenges to keep your practice fun, measure your improvement, and help you transfer your skills onto the golf course.

“. . .With 1-3 hours a week, I’ve seen high handicap golfers improve by 4-8 shots a year and golfers working their way down to scratch consistently improve by 1-3 shots a year.”

I truly believe you can make solid improvements with 1-3 hours of practice a week along with 18 holes of golf.

Obviously, practicing more allows you to get better more quickly, but with 1-3 hours a week, I’ve seen high handicap golfers improve by 4-8 shots a year and golfers working their way down to scratch consistently improve by 1-3 shots a year.

Want To Upgrade Your Practice?

I hope you’ve found this article useful, try out the games above next time you are at the range or putting green. And if you want more help building practice plans that covers everything we have talked about in this article then check out Break X Golf.

Break X Golf is an app that I built to do all of the above with a few clicks.

It is the product of building practice plans for amateurs and pros for the past 18 years. It is what I wish existed as a 13-year-old junior wanting to become a golf pro.

If you have any questions about the app feel free to reach out to me. Here’s the contact form.

Happy golfing – Will @ Break X Golf

PGA Golf Professional at | Website | + posts

Will Shaw is a PGA golf professional, with a PhD in Biomedical Science and MSc in Sports Biomechanics & Psychology. He spent 10 years lecturing part-time at Leeds Beckett University and the University of Leeds in Biomechanics and Motor Control before becoming the Head of Golf for the University of Exeter. He currently runs Golf Insider UK, Sport Science Insider around wider consulting and academic roles in sport performance and motor control.

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